You know that thing you carry around everywhere in your pocket that looks like a smartphone? Well, it’s actually an ATM—for your wireless carrier. Every month, your smartphone likely transfers way too much money from your bank account to your carrier’s coffers.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you don’t mind some limitations and erratic call quality, you can use Wi-Fi at home, work or elsewhere to make and receive phone calls using your smartphone for free. Here are three options to consider.
* Facebook Messenger
Last week, Facebook quietly updated its free iPhone Messenger app, making calls to other iPhone Messenger app users free over Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, for now, you probably will not find many Facebook friends to call; I couldn’t find anyone, in fact. And even when more people have the app, you’re still limited to calling only Facebook friends, so you'd have to be connected with a person on that social network to call them. No word yet on when free Wi-Fi calling will be available in the Facebook Messenger Android app.
Among the options I considered for free Wi-Fi calling, this app is the best—though my recommendation comes with caveats.
Talkatone is available for both iOS (it’s also optimized for iPads) and Android devices. You can use it to call any number in the United States and Canada—the other party doesn’t need to have the Talkatone app. But some calls I made didn’t go through. One person I called couldn’t hear me at all. Some calls sounded a bit fuzzy. Talkatone is ad-supported as well. And the app requires you to have a Google Voice number. (By the way, the Google Voice app for iOS and Android doesn’t allow you to make calls over Wi-Fi.)
Lots of people use Skype mobile apps on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets for voice and video chats. As long as you’re calling other Skype users, it’s free.
But what if you want to make Skype calls to and receive them from landline and mobile numbers? You’ll need a Skype phone number to receive calls, which costs $18 every three months, and Skype Credit or a subscription ($3/month) to make calls. That’s still cheap—but it’s not free.
Nimbuzz, a Skype competitor, also lets you make and receive free calls from other Nimbuzz users. And its NumbuzzOut feature lets you call landlines and mobile phones from the Nimbuzz app at low rates. Nimbuzz doesn’t currently give you a phone number for others to call, however.